Friday, June 20, 2008

Windows Vista still sucks after 16 months

When it launched, I commented that all those people floundering around in the video represent the new Vista users figuring out how to make the damn thing work. Now, after a full year and a service pack, plus numerous security updates, it's time to take another look at Vista.
We tried for a long time to suffer along with the UAC ("User Annoyance Control") message, but eventually I gave up. The time it has taken for the dialogue box to come up and then go away again after clicking has increased progressively over time: 10-15 seconds waiting is just too long, when CCleaner only takes about that long to run. So now we have to put up with Annoyance #2: the warning message that Annoyance #1 is switched off.
Vista Service Pack 1 fixed my other main gripe: printing. Our HP1020 printer is connected to Penny's Vista machine, and each time I wanted to print out a page I would have to send the page to the shared printer, and then go to her machine and reboot it to get the page to print. I kid you not! After SP1 I can now print correctly. It was nice of Microsoft to make me wait over a year for this bug fix. Shared printers are obviously not big in Redmond.
Of course the related bug is still not fixed: the HP 1020 driver for Vista and XP makes horrible little black rectangles down the right hand margin of the page whenever graphics are used. HP is unlikely to fix this because they don't care about their old HP1020 customers. So I will probably not buy another HP printer, even though I have owned 3 or 4 over the years. Enough is enough.
That gets rid of the main issues. But of course Office 2002 still doesn't work with Vista correctly, and there is no sign of a bug fix either. Each time Penny wants to collect her email Outlook 2002 asks for her password. It doesn't do this on my XP machine, and I have exactly the same version of Outlook. I'm not prepared to spend a fortune upgrading to a newer version of Outlook just to fix this bug.
Speaking of upgrades, I'm not prepared to spend money upgrading Office 2002 just to get the Office Assistant (i.e. Clippy) to work either. I'm not even sure if Office 2007 has one, but it has those dreadful toolbars and no option of a menu, so Microsoft in all its wisdom has lost another Office customer.
Then there is the brain dead "Power Off" button in Vista that actually does a "Standby" (there is NO hibernate option) instead of a "Shut Down". I finally found out from Paul Thurrott how to change it, so now at least it does what it is supposed to.
Vista Home editions don't have a "fax" option, unlike Windows XP, so each time we need to send a fax from home (we don't have a fax machine at home) we have to use the modem in my laptop, because I'm still running WinXP. Another Microsoft brainwave: the fax option is only available in the Business editions of Vista, because fax machines are found in most offices, but not in most homes. Genius!
So if I get a laptop with Vista on it, I'll probably have to get the Business edition, and hope that it can do "home" things like play music and DVDs. Only time will tell. Of couse, I can't to an "anytime upgrade" because that isn't available to HP South Africa customers. I guess I probably won't be buying an HP laptop after all.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tracker Makes More Noise

Tracker, our noisy neighbours, seem to be returning to their helicopter "joyride" days. Their offices are less than 400m (as the crow flies) from a functioning helipad, but that's not good enough for these guys. They'd rather the helicopter lands on the lawns in a designated nature reserve, where there is no wind sock, with tall trees and buildings nearby.

Click on the picture for a more detailed Google Earth image

I hope they got CAA permission this time, although I doubt it. And, of course, their public liability insurance wouldn't cover a helicopter crash in a suburb if it was unauthorised.
Tracker specialises in noisy behaviour at their offices. On Thursday 17th April, during the middle of a "load shedding" blackout, they held a noisy function in their parking garage, playing their music loud enough to be heard blocks away, especially since the only other sound that could be heard was the noise of their backup generators in an otherwise silent neighbourhood.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reserve Bank Policy Madness

I'm not the sheep type. I always believe in asking questions. After the umpteenth increase in the bank rate, I finally have had enough, so I went to the Reserve Bank web site and clicked on the "Contact Us" button to ask the following question:
I understand that inflation occurs when prices are raised, such as electricity, fuel, food, wages, bank charges, etc.
I don't understand why inflation is supposed to be reduced by raising the bank rates, in particular home loans. If the cost of my home loan goes up, how is this different from the cost of fuel or electricity going up?
Please advise
I will post the SARB response. If anyone would like to explain this anomaly in non-jargon terms, please feel free to leave a comment.
Update: "Patrick" from the reserve bank sent me some "Fact Sheet" PDF files, that you can find at the reserve bank's web site by going to the "About Us" section and clicking on "Fact Sheets". I guess if they need to explain it in 8 fact sheets then the simple answer is that there is no simple answer and we must just shut up and pay. Thanks for nothing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

UltimateDefrag Announces Freeware and Special Offer

After announcing the new UltimateDefrag 2008 product, Disktrix also announced a freeware version 1.72 (with no technical support), as well as special offer: $10 saving until the end of June on the purchase of the new version 2008, which normally costs $39.95.
I will be publishing benchmarks and a review of version 2008 sometime soon, and the older version was reviewed a year ago, with a "thumbs up", especially for performance junkies. Disktrix have also announced improved boot time support, to be released shortly.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Eskom Unplugged by Noseweek

I love reading Noseweek ("news you're not supposed to know") because they are one of the few publications in South Africa that keeps us honest.
I bought their May issue only last week, and now courtesy of their web site you can (for a limited time) read their fascinating account of how Eskom has mismanaged themselves and put the entire economy at risk. Here is the summarised version of how to run a mega-corporation into the ground in seven easy steps:
Step 1: Look after number one
This involves lucrative "special contracts" with key employees and high flyers.
Step 2: Put your hand in the cookie jar
Sell off assets but keep the best ones for select employees who can then make a fortune by selling them at a profit later
Step 3: Take in a lodger
Rent space to SARS at a special low rate for 15 years, so you end up having to build extra space for your own needs and spend R50 million doing so.
Step 4: Be too clever to take advice
Set up a special relationship with the Reserve Bank and then ignore it.
Step 5: Do some truly weird stuff
Pay for a lavish junket to Iraq in an attempt to get business from Saddam Hussein.
Step 6: When the shit hits the fan, lie!
When power blackouts occur, give out little or no real information on how bad the grid is maintained and run. If in doubt, give out the wrong information.
Step 7: Give jobs to the boys
Give out contracts to ANC front companies so the party can make a cool R3billion profit from the deal. Never mind the contracts are late and way behind schedule, or that the pricing and product was originally not good enough.
You can subscribe to Noseweek online at

Monday, June 02, 2008

Little Brother: are you paranoid enough yet?

I bought and downloaded the audio (MP3) version of Cory Doctorow's book "Little Brother", but you can download the text version for free. I found it fascinating, scary, entertaining and challenging. The book is nearly 12 hours long, and I found it difficult to stop listening. You can check out the Amazon reviews as well.
In the story scenario the school kids use a fictitious Linux distro called "Paranoid Linux" that tries to keep its presence on the net invisible, and uses Public Key crypto for sending secure emails. It's a pity that it would require a severe crackdown on civil liberties to get people to use this kind of email.
One thing you can do right now to secure the privacy of at least some of your data is to install and use TrueCrypt so that if (when) your computer gets stolen, your private files remain private.
What's the big deal about privacy? If your home has ever been broken into, remember how you felt to find that someone had invaded your space. Now apply the same feeling to your personal documents. Do you really want some criminal syndicate getting hold of your credit card statements, or finding out who your business associates are? Do you want your investment broker getting instructions to sell your bonds and send the proceeds to your "new" cheque account that doesn't belong to you?